Monday, September 29, 2008

Career in Printing. A 1946 Educational Film.

I came across this film on YouTube. While obviously dated, it is
a great overview of the classical aspects of Letterpress Printing.

The kids in the composing room bring back memories. It was in a
similar room where I learned composing.


Good Providence in all your Letterpress endeavours!


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Just Now Finding Comments

Usually when someone posts a comment to one of my articles or entries, I get flagged by e-mail. But I have found this is not necessarily something to depend on. I just found a comment posted to one of my articles from over a month ago, and have only now approved it for publication. I found it by accident, responding to another comment (which WAS flagged via e-mail)

Thus, I would conclude that if you wish to respond to any post, do so, but also flag me by e-mail, just to make sure I don't miss anything. Just "cc" me at:

Perhaps I should post my address with my links on the left side of this page.


Friday, September 26, 2008

The Intaglio Touch

Intaglio is the printing of a recessed surface, a carved groove, or gully if you will, etched by a tool, which fills with ink. The raised surfaces are wiped clean of ink, leaving only the ink caught in the carved gulleys and recesses. No matter how small. Even a needle scratch on a polished metal surface will collect ink.

Moistened, somewhat spongy paper is placed atop this wiped plate, and a pliable tympan is laid atop the paper. Then great pressure is pressed atop the tympan, most likely from a stiff iron platen or steel roller, which forces the paper into the etched  grooves, forcing it to receive the ink there.

Intaglio is second only to typography in antiquity, appearing in the early 16th century, and became the illustration medium of choice for fine work. Nothing reproduces a finer line than an engraved plate.

There are several methods of producing and intaglio plate, most commonly - the hand held graver. Various sharp stylii can be used, even iron "needles". Acid can etch copper and steel to form recesses to receive ink. Photogravue, Aquatints, mezzotints ( I think ), dry point etching such as was done by Rembrandt Van Eck, and graver / spitsticker engraving, as used by Dürer, DeBry, even Paul Revere, colonial activist and silversmith. Usually an intaglio press alone costs a thousand or more dollars. Plates are expensive. Tools are available, but you have to hunt for them (try Florida Watch and Jewel in St. Petersburg, Fla.)

But what if you just want to play around with it? Try it out, experiment a little? Maybe do some small scale intaglio to compliment your letterpress endeavors?

Permit me to describe a little method I used at Heirloom Press in Palm Harbor: Vise Cuts. All you need is a sturdy bench vise, a stylus, a 1 or 2 inch square piece of polished aluminium which can be polished on a buffing wheel with toothpaste and water, a square piece of rubber of linoleum, and a couple steel plates from Home Depot.  In the case of this entry, aluminium from a government surplus store.

I used a spitsticker (a type of graver), but I've also used a steel stylus made from the hinge-pin of a door, and also a small round metal iron file sharpened to a fine point. A sharpened iron nail would do in a pinch. You need not scratch or engrave very deeply, aluminium is quite soft. You can get aluminium plates from hardware stores, they need not be very thick, really, and you can glue the plate to a stiff block of hardwood or birch ply to re-enforce it. Use a paper with some spongy give, like cold press watercolour paper, or Arches gravure paper sold at art supply stores.

After you scratch, etch or engrave your little plate, dab regular printing ink, Process Black for example, rubber or oil based, the same as you use for Letterpress does fine. Then wipe it off. I used a small rubber squeegee, but you can even use your finger on something so small as this. You do not have to wipe the surface perfectly clear: there is a personality to an engraved impression, and sometimes the tint caused by residual ink left from the wiping process actually adds to the interest of the image.

You have to make a sandwich: a steel plate atop the plate, which is pressed into the paper (slightly dampened) which is backed by a give-able, or pliable piece of rubber or linoleum. Put this "sandwich" between the jaws of a vice, and crank her down for all she's worth. Intaglio presses exert enormous pressures. After a few tries, you will get the "feel" of how much ink to apply, how deep to etch, and how much "give" you need for the tympan.

The images are not large owing to the limited area provided by the jaws of a bench vice, but it is more than enough to provide an image that can work quite interestingly in concert with your letterpress work. And . . . add real value! Intaglio printing can be pretty expensive, really, and very time intensive as well - not to mention the time it takes to build up the engraving skill itself, but the labour and time spent pays off! And using the above suggestions, you don't have much capital investment, which makes it all the more attractive to me, anyway.

I'll not pose as an expert engraver by any means. I do linoleum and wood. I have engraved my share of end-grain and polymers, but Bewick I am not!! It's all for fun and for the experience. And once or twice I managed to sell some of the products thereof. Point is, you don't have to be an Albrecht Dürer or a Rembrandt to have some educational fun with this venue, and even pull a fairly decent, albeit tiny,  print!

Here are some photos of the process. The plate is about an inch and a half by one inch. The backing is linoleum, though I usually used hard rubber. Padding can be adjusted by strips of paper. The three different papers used was "Gravure", a laid stock;, Arches Cold Press watercolour; and a type of thick hot press. All worked, but the Gravure paper did handle moistening best.

This is pretty much the complete set up. Two steel plates, a hefty vice, a cut of scrap rubber or softer linoleum, a graving tool or stylus - a sharpener should be available, too - a small piece of polished metal, a softer type like aluminium which is pretty cheap, and some paper with some tooth and "give".

Here is a closeup of what I used on this particular plate. It's a spitsticker and Arkansas whet stone. Sharpness really helps make the cutting of the metal easy. The difference between a graver and a stylus is that a graver leaves no burr, it cuts it away as it gouges, or channels through the media. The stylus leaves a burr. Now, that burr has a unique characteristic all of it's own: it also holds ink. While the line produced by a stylus may not be quite as fine and refined and precise, it has it's own unique character. One of my art teachers likened it to a fine charcoal-drawn line, only velvety.

I do both graver and stylus techniques on my plates. I don't know if I do them correctly, nobody really taught me. I just looked at the old 19th century books on the subject and mostly copied the postures in the pictures. And since childhood, both here and in Europe, the old prints from the 15 and 16th centuries had always fascinated me. Particularly the Theodore De Bry prints.

Here is the aluminium plate and three separate pulls on three types of paper. The size of the plate is roughly one and one-half inches by one inch.

This is the print to the far right. I believe it is pressed into a hot press thick mill wove stock

This is the second from the right, the middle print. The paper is Gravure, Laid.

This is the print left of the group of three, printed on cold press Arches Watercolour stock. As you might be able to tell on all three, the impressions were pretty deep, the first probably the deepest. All were slightly moistened before the impression. I held the impression a few seconds before releasing the pressure and pulling the plate and paper "sandwich".

This is the "sandwich". The engraved or etched plate is on top, faced down upon the paper. Behind the paper is the pliable tympan, in this case Linoleum. Sometimes I could find vulcanized rubber sheeting or offset blanket material from the Military Surplus Store, and I would use them for backing. Of course, the rubber lasts a very long time. Linoleum on the other hand, will crumble and split in time, but it's cheap. And usually I don't do more than a few prints anyway. At least so far.

Here is the whole assembly in the vise. From the head-on angle, it might be hard to see the steel plate between the left jaw of the vice and the plate itself. The steel plate is only to spread out the pressure a little bit, maybe an additional 5% of coverage. It also protects the plate. the block that serves as the back, or "platen" upon which the rubber or linoleum tympan is mounted is birch ply. It could be any hard, smooth and even surface. The wood was handy.

Here the "make-up" is unpacked and opened up. All in all, not bad. Not exactly the Penny Black or Post Office Mauritius, but it is a real intaglio print in every sense of the word, not the worst in the world as far as the image goes (I'm a pushover for cabins in the snow with pine trees!). No Theodore DeBry print, but it was fun and most importantly . . . inexpensive!   That's, uh . . .  my middle name.

So there you go. A touch of Intaglio. Have fun, and keep the presses rolling!

Good Providence in all your endeavours!


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Another Day at the Settlement Print Shop

I went up to the Florida Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts today to bring back about a hundred copper, zinc and woodcuts that I had at my home, salvaging what could be saved and cleaning up what was left. About two boxes of wood mounted ad cuts of all sorts were donated to the Pioneer Settlement by the Daytona Branch of the Orlando Sentinel about ten years ago, and over the years atmospheric damage took out the magnesium and some of the zinc. Careless storage of vinyl rollers above the open boxes created another problem: a thick layer of goo dripping through the box, creating an almost impenetrable morass. It took lots of hot water and kerosene, hours of scrubbing with a toothbrush and careful drying to bring back about one hundred of these cuts. I will show the cuts later. These were ads for everything "Florida", from Mackel Brother's homes to Citrus adds, interior shots of 1950's and early 60's model homes which were dot-etched copper halftones. Several portraits of local political figures number in the collection, and at least one very early halftone of a dreadnought-bowed Inland Steamer, possibly a DeBary steamer, but more likely an Inland Waterway carrier steamer.

While I was there, I shot some views of the shop, a project underway, with lots of sorting through "over donations". There's a lot of stuff to weed thru, lots of Black Widows and Brown Recluses to avoid. Let me tell ya, in Florida, you best be careful pulling open a type drawer that hasn't seen the light of day in over fifty years! You ain't up Nawth, brother yank, you be in the Swamp! I exaggerate not.

One of the things I had to do today was wind and jog about 4 or 5 reams of 40" stock, run them thru the Reliance Cutter, and bring them down to useable size. I used the Paper Press to pile the stock.

Here is where I set the cut stock first, and after the pile got high enough, into the "winepress" they went.

Here's a couple shots from behind the front desk. Each and every drawer and cubby must be inspected, cleaned, and each type case sorted and identified. Many of our cases which were donated were absolutely pied, and were that way for about half a century! I could tell from the occasional 1956 penny or dime. Not one item was recovered from these cabinets newer than 1962, or older than 1917 (vid the Doughboy entry a few months back.)

These are a series of home-made half-cases. Actually they are pretty cleverly put together, obviously by someone who had no access to Thompson or Hamilton cases. The cabinets are entirely plywood, about 40 years old, and each case is entirely made of tempered masonite. Many did not survive the damp well. A lot of type has to be moved around, I'm afraid.

This was my old Hamilton Cabinet from when I operated Heirloom Press from out of Palm Harbor. It dates to 1880. The Iron drawer pulls used to be highly sought after years ago when everyone was using these drawers for "nik-nak" and curio shelves. The drawers are made of poplar and fronted with Jacobean stained oak, with one piece solid wood bottoms, probably ash. It originally stood two feet higher, but dry-wood termites forced me to cut off the bottom two feet of the cabinet and rebuild the bottom. The lower drawers were also lost. The queen termite was a big as one of those African termite queens you see in National Geographic. The cabinet came from a shop in Downtown Clearwater, Florida.

This is one of the newer, metal cabinets with an ecclectic collection of type drawers in and atop the cabinet. Many of these cases are pied or misidentified.

This is a demo linocut and print. I cut this block for Christmas, 1992. Never thought then that it would be on display at a Museum 16 years later.

Above and below are shots of our Peerless Line Perforator. We figure it to date to around 1890 or so. Of course, it is treadle powered. It turns out to be the Museum Staff's favourite machine. Who knew so many things needed to be . . . er . . . perforated?

This is a very early model Kelsey Mercury 3 X 5. I made many a commercial business card on this little press. Don't sell a Kelsey short! It serves as one of our demo presses for visiting kids to try out.

This is our newer 8 x 12 C&P "Old Style" press. I think it dates to around 1912. You might notice that I am in the midst of sorting out some large point-sized caps. We have foundry type up to 96 pt!

This is the other 8 x 12 C&P "Old Style" press. All of our presses are either pump or treadle. Including Casey, our 12 x 18. This press dates to the late 1880s. Yes, that is the original colour, according to the Donor.

Ahh, yes, Casey. Casey is our 12 x 18 "New Style" C&P Jobber. He's pretty big, but treadle powered nonetheless. Half a Horse will power Casey, though. These presses are very well balanced, and in spite of Casey's size, he is no more difficult or unwieldly to operate, make-ready for or clean up than the smaller presses, save for the additional roller and cleaning up the ink reservoir. We have an extra 12 x 18 in storage.

The following shots are of our Guillotine cutter, our trusty Reliance. I believe it is a 30" cutter, just right for our shop. I'd love to get one for my own shop at home.

I spent about an hour cutting stock on the Reliance today. Very smooth operating, I didn't even break a sweat. If we had one of these back at the print shop I worked at back in '74, I wouldn't have wound up in the amputation ward at the Old Orange Memorial Hospital. It was a "modern" machine that messed me up. But all my fingers are attached, and I still do guitar performances. All's well that ends well. But let me tell ya, I don't touch powered cutters. I don't care how "safe" they are.

Well, that's about it from here. In a few installments I'll revisit the "Vise Cuts", small intaglio prints made from a small piece of polished aluminium, Laid linen rag paper, a few small pieces of rubber and a 30-lb bench vice.

Stay tuned.


The Florida Letterpress Listgroup

Since I started this blog, I have been contacted by persons all around this State (Florida) mostly regarding getting started. There is a growing interest in Letterpress Typography, and I believe that Florida is prone to be very active in the Art. At this point we have two Colleges that have Book Arts related activities, and at very least two Museums that feature Letterpress. This year's American Amateur Press Association conference was held at the University of Tampa, as covered on this blog.

It seemed to me that it might be good to have a place for folks in Florida who are becoming interested in pegging type and heavy iron to come and meet each other, exchange information, procure parts and equipment, network, etc.

I might emphasise parts procurement. As activity increases, so does availability of parts and equipment. An active community in any endeavour triggers this phenomena. Things get circulated, news gets spread.

Thus, for anyone interested, be they in Florida or not, Check out the Florida Letterpress Listgroup on Yahoo at: or just click here.

Keep in mind that as of Sept. 23rd, I am the only member! So there will not be a whole lot of activity until more folks join.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Recent Technology: The Ultimate Cutting Edge of Robotics!

Straight from the Houston Space Center: recently declassified footage of the latest in Post Glastnost robotics technology. Note that this technology has never actually been successfully perfected, but as of 2008 stunning achievements have been meticulously recorded by US Bureau of Robotic Research and Development.

This video is subject to applicable Federal declassification regulations, and must not be exported to countries listed on the Federal Banned Countries List.

The Making of a Book, circa 1947

Thought this old Brittanica Edu-Series 16mm film video from 1947 might provide a bit of insight on how typographed books were made in the age of Stereo Metal plates, or "Stereotypes". My prized 1936 copy of "Gone With the Wind" was made in exactly this manner.

Hope you enjoy it. If for no other reason than to bring back memories of Junior High School (remember when they called it by that name?)


Monday, September 1, 2008

"20th Century Mortise Cuts"

These come from the ATF type specimen book, c. 1915. These are vectored at a fairly large size, mostly for editing which I do on FreeHand. Some of the editing I do involves adding crosshatch shading to the area which originally contained the mortise. This gives the effect of some of the postal designs of France or Germany of that time, where coloured numerics or figures appear in a shaded recess.

No. 83

No. 9627

No. 12023

No. 12024

No. 12025

No. 12026

I'll be slowly adding more as time permits.